These States Are Making It Harder to Stay on Unemployment

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on April 14, 2021

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A worried couple looks at paperwork and a laptop.

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Out of work? You may have to hustle to keep your unemployment benefits.

When the coronavirus outbreak first exploded, millions of jobs were shed within weeks. Things got so bad that the jobless rate in April of 2020 soared to 14.7% -- a record high. Since then, the unemployment rate has been steadily improving, but a lot of people are still out of work.

The good news is that the recently-signed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan includes a $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits. Seeing as how many jobless people have exhausted their savings and need those benefits to live on, that's a good thing. But some states are now making it harder for those on unemployment to keep getting benefits. And if more states follow suit, there could be big problems.

Tightening work search requirements

Normally, to collect unemployment benefits, recipients must certify each week that they're not only available for work, but are actively looking for a job. And many states require beneficiaries to keep a log of work search activities and, at times, submit that information for review.

Early on in the pandemic, however, most states waived the work search requirement because it just wasn't feasible. First of all, there weren't many jobs to be had. Second, going out and interviewing was deemed very unsafe when states were struggling to get the coronavirus outbreak under control. Third, many childcare centers closed at the start of the pandemic, and schools shut down all over the country. That left parents without anyone to look after their kids. To force those parents to look for work just didn't make sense at the time.

But thankfully, things have improved over the past year. These days, there are more available jobs, more opportunities to interview remotely, and more childcare options to be had. Many school districts have even resumed full-time in-person learning (though many are still fully or partially remote). As such, some states have made the decision to reimpose the work search requirements for those who are collecting unemployment benefits.

Specifically, North Carolina, South Carolina, Nevada, and Idaho have all recently announced that those collecting jobless benefits will need to either actively search for work, or take steps to boost their skills so they qualify for work when more jobs become available. These four states join 19 others that have brought the requirement back.

Now on the one hand, some argue that those collecting jobless benefits should be required to "earn" that money by looking for work or at least taking skill-boosting courses. But let's not forget that many workers are still without childcare and can't engage in a full-fledged work search, nor do they have the option to accept a job if offered one. Plus, some people may need to continue isolating during the pandemic due to health concerns, making it difficult or impossible to get a job, since many roles can't be performed remotely.

All told, the work search requirement may be a burden for a lot of people who are currently collecting unemployment. And if more states start cracking down on it, a lot of jobless folks could be at risk of losing their benefits, falling behind on their bills, and suffering severe financial consequences.

If you're currently on unemployment and concerned about the requirements changing, check with your state's employment office for guidance.

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